Austin, Texas is not exactly the place that comes to mind first when one thinks of bad drivers. Regardless, the Austin driving experience will still follow through in its promise to leave you completely frustrated and in a terrible mood almost everytime you step into the car.

Here are some tips to survive driving in Austin:

Tip 1: Texas Snow

One thing to know about Texas snow is that it's not like the beautiful sort of White Christmas, kids woken up in the middle of the night to see the first snow of winter type of deal. It's dirty. It's sludgy. And it doesn't take long before it becomes a sheet of ice. Walking on it is hard enough; it turns your average sidewalk into the Ice Capades.

Austin is a city full of people who usually aren't prepared for this type of thing -- Texas snow lingers for only a day or two out of the year, if it comes at all. Beware of who is driving near you and how often you slam on your brakes, which is, on a normal basis, an everyday occurance in Austin.

Tip 2: Driving in a Rainstorm

This isn't exactly a tip per se. More like a warning to those of you who'd like to visit the Texas capital.

If you thought Austinites had trouble driving when the city ices over, you've seen nothing until you've seen an Austinite drive in the rain. It seems to be perfectly acceptable to drive 40 mph on a 65 mph freeway when it's only drizzling out.

Tip 3: Playing Hardball

One general characteristic of drivers in Austin are that they're incredibly stubborn.

Obviously they're not all like that, but those that are would seriously rather die than let you onto the freeway. This works the opposite way as well -- people would sooner sell their family into slavery than feel the defeat of being a whole one car behind on the freeway.

Make no assumptions -- more often than not, they have no intention of letting you on the freeway.

Tip 4: I-35

One of the major freeways in Austin, I-35 is one of the most often used routes for people headed to work in downtown Austin.

It's subject to some horrible rush hour traffic. At its peak traffic time, it could take as long as two hours to travel from one end of the city to the other.

At other times, you could be stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic only to find at the end of it ... nothing. No obstructions, traffic accidents, etc ... nothing.

The freeway itself is an architectural horror. The entrance ramps on the lower deck are almost non-existant, which an out-of-towner may not be prepared for. It's been said that the designer of this particular freeway committed suicide by jumping off his creation after hearing of all the accidents that it had caused. (Sounds like a bit of an urban legend to me, but if anyone can say for sure, please /msg me.)

Be ready for some hair ripping time of Austin's IH-35.

Tip 5: Driving on Lamar Blvd.

Lamar Blvd. is a major street in Austin, its length traveling through one end of the city straight to the other. It's a possible alternative to using I-35 to get to downtown or the University of Texas at Austin, depending on where you live.

Lamar, particularly North Lamar, is a gem to drive on. Beware of the people inflicted with the "I'll turn left whenever I damn well please" syndrome and those who drive 10 miles under the speed limit regardless of the weather. (See Tip 2: Driving in a Rainstorm.)

Note to the humour impaired: These "tips" are not to be taken too seriously or literally. Generalizations have been made by the author with the sole intent to amuse; there is intention of offending the Austin driver with this node.

Texas Snow

I've lived in Austin for 20 years, and have encountered snow there exactly three times (if you want to call that snow). It freezes over about once every two years.

Due to infrequency, Austin drivers can't deal with it: there's always a ridiculous number of accidents with even the slightest bit of ice on the road. Even worse, the city doesn't know what to do about it either. They always pour sand on the road, but sand doesn't do anything to make it less slippery, salt on the road is what helps that, as I understand.

This sand actually makes it slippery even after the ice and snow are gone, which is ironic because everyone wants to drive fast again now that the ice has disappeared.


A lovely creation by University of Texas graduate Ed Bluestein, the split deck portion of I35 running next to the University of Texas was rated one of the 10 most dangerous sections of road in America. I'm not so sure that it's urban legend, but I have also heard that Ed committed suicide due to the tragic number of deaths.

It is difficult to detail the public menace that is I35, but, in general, the problems are three-fold.

  • blind entrance ramps - The lower deck is lower than the feeder roads, causing difficulty in alignment. No prep time, you just have to go for it and hope for some friendly drivers.
  • short entrance ramps - One has about 30 meters (100 feet) to merge. This is accentuated by several problems: 1) the aforementioned blindness, 2) the entrance ramp ends in a concrete wall. The shoulder technicall exists, but is only 1 car width wide, give or take a foot. 3) You're expected to merge from the 40 mph feeder to 60 mph on the freeway in that time.
  • reversed exit lanes - As /dev/joe mentioned, the right two lanes go to the upper deck; the left two are your exits for midtown. While it's well labeled, people frequently make a last second sweep back across the median to switch back to lower deck lanes. I've seen them flip back and forth several times in indecision.

The first two combine with panicky drivers to cause people to STOP at the end of the accelleration lane because they are terrified. Then you have a bunch of cars lined up who all have to wait for gaps in traffic. Also, they now have to accellerate from 0 to 60 to get in. Number three often has people stopped on the median in the middle of traffic as well. In driving on the lower deck, you have to deal with people who are dealing with these problems, so it's sometimes not pleasant on either side.

Now for the tips to survive I-35.

  • The yuppies don't want to scratch their SUV's, so they're pretty generous about letting you in. You can't see them from the access ramp, but they can see you, and will get out of the way.
  • There is the upper deck. If you aren't an aggressive driver, use it. I personally prefer the thrill of the lower deck, because most of the Sunday driver types will stick to the upper deck out of fear for their lives.
  • Skip it. It's often convenient to take Highway 183 over to Mopac and and go south from there. No I35 Split Deck Death Trap over there, although we used to have an artificial rain system.
  • Wait. The city is actually in the process of repairing I-35, extending the entrance ramps all the way to the exit ramps by pushing the concrete walls back a few feet. I'll be sad to see this fine stretch of badlands dissapear, but The City of Austin appreciates it.

The other important thing about I-35 in Austin is being prepared by being in the correct lane when the road splits into the upper and lower decks. For some insane reason, the left 2 lanes of the road lead into the lower deck, with all the local exits through the middle of the city and downtown, while the right 2 lanes form the express lanes of the upper deck, next exit just before the two sides merge back together again. If you're hugging the right-hand lane waiting for your exit, and it happens to be just after this split, you're going to miss your exit by a long way!

In any case, both sides of the road are this way, so you should quickly learn to get into the 2nd lane from the left when headed for a mid-town exit and starting from outside the 2-level region.

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